Essential Oils for Your Dog
Wondering if it’s okay to use essential oils for your dog? The answer is yes—as long as you do so properly and with a few safeguards in mind.
Using essential oils on animals is not really new: Rene Maurice Gattefossé, known as the father of aromatherapy, first tested essential oils on dogs and horses in France in the last century. Fast-forward to today and many veterinarians are diffusing lavender essential oil in their waiting rooms to help calm anxious pets. The aisles of your local pet supply shop are probably filled with products promoting scent-based therapies. Unfortunately, many of these commercial products use synthetic scents that can be ineffective, disturbing, or even harmful to your dog. And many well-intentioned pet owners make the mistake of thinking that essential oils are harmless since they are natural. But remember: essential oils don’t occur in their concentrated form in nature. Many, many pounds of plant material are distilled, extracted, or expressed to make just a few drops of an oil—these are very powerful substances!
Also, of course, humans and dogs differ in size and biology and in our sense of smell, so the same oil or blend that may have helped you could annoy or even hurt your dog. Always, check with your veterinarian before introducing your pet to any essential oils, check the boxes for lists of safe and unsafe essential oils and carrier oils, and keep the safety dos and don’ts below in mind.
Dos and Don’ts
- Do keep in mind that each dog is different, so use common sense and watch how your particular dog responds to a particular oil.
- Do begin by heavily diluting the oil(s) and slowly working your way up to the recommended amounts.
- Do dilute any essential oil with a safe carrier oil (see the list) if applying topically and do a patch test before first use.
- Don’t let your pet ingest essential oils unless it is under the direct supervision of a veterinarian trained in their use. This includes adding a couple drops of essential oil to their water bowl—it can sit on the top of the water and be ingested in its concentrated form.
- Don’t apply any undiluted essential oil to your dog’s skin or fur.
- Don’t apply essential oil to your dog’s eyes, nose, genital, or anal area.
- Don’t use any essential oils on puppies younger than 10 weeks old.
When to Introduce EOs to Your Dog
You’ll be tempted to introduce your dog to the benefits of aromatherapy when he or she is sick or fearful or misbehaving, but that is exactly the wrong time because your dog may associate the scent with discomfort or anxiety. Begin aromatherapy when your pet is calm and healthy.
The best way to introduce your dog to a scent is to apply a bit of it to yourself (diluted with a carrier oil) and then interact with him or her in a happy situation. Or you can diffuse it for a short period of time. Make sure it’s easy for your dog to leave and go to another room if he or she seems bothered by the scent. Once you’ve made sure your dog tolerates an essential oil or a blend and associates it with comfort, you can begin to use it in stressful situations such as during storms or fireworks, for separation anxiety, grooming, or a trip to the vet.
Here are some easy ways to get started using essential oils with your dog. If you want to substitute ingredients, just be sure to check the boxed list of recommended and unsafe essential oils and only use carrier oils listed in the box to the left. How your dog reacts to each oil may vary, so be extra cautious with first use.
Separation Anxiety Diffusing Blend
4 drops Petitgrain
2 drops Sweet Basil
1 drop Ylang Ylang
Diffusing is a great way to introduce your dog to aromatherapy. Just add the blend to a diffuser and set it up in an area where your dog can easily leave if uncomfortable. Also, if you have other pets (such as a cat or bird), be sure to do your research so you aren’t harming one animal while helping the other.
3 drops of Lavender
2 drops of Sweet Marjoram
2 drops of Roman Chamomile
8 ounces water
Add the essential oils and water to a spray bottle and shake well. Use only a squirt or two at a time initially, and be sure to avoid your dog’s face when spraying.
Soothing Skin Blend
2 drops Sweet Marjoram
2 drops Helichrysum
6 drops Lavender
2 drops Carrot Seed
2 oz Sweet Almond Oil
Add all the ingredients to a small dark glass container, and shake to mix thoroughly. Apply 2 drops to hot spots or other sores.
What about Cats?
Cats are especially sensitive to the compounds in essential oils, so even greater caution needs to be taken where they are concerned. Cats lack an important liver detoxification enzyme so many substances that other mammals can safely process are toxic to cats. Keep this in mind if your cat and dog interact a lot (licking each other, for instance) or if you are diffusing in a room where both are present. We’ll try to cover cats in a future post, but for now here is a list of oils you should completely avoid around cats: lemon orange, tangerine, mandarin, grapefruit, lime, bergamot, pine, spruce, fir, oregano, thyme, clove, summer savory, winter savory, cassia, and cinnamon.